Kepa the perfect super sub as Chelsea secure Super Cup in Belfast shoot-out

Spanish goalkeeper comes off the bench at the end of extra-time to deny Villarreal

Chelsea goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga celebrates with Antonio Rüdiger, Cesar Azpilicueta and Christian Pulisic after the penalty shoot-out win over Villarreal in the European Super Cup Final at Windsor Park in Belfast . Photograph:  Paul Ellis/AFP via Getty Images

Chelsea goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga celebrates with Antonio Rüdiger, Cesar Azpilicueta and Christian Pulisic after the penalty shoot-out win over Villarreal in the European Super Cup Final at Windsor Park in Belfast . Photograph: Paul Ellis/AFP via Getty Images

 

Chelsea 1 Villarreal 1 (aet; Chelsea win 6-5 on pens)

At the conclusion of a pre-season campaign described as “pretty demanding” by Thomas Tuchel, it seems obvious that extra-time in the Super Cup did not form part of any grand plan. The laboured efforts of players on both sides during those added 30 minutes added to a sense of inconvenience. Sudden death penalty kicks were still to come.

Still, winning covers a multitude of irritations. Tuchel opted to throw on Kepa Arrizabalaga with penalties looming; a decision fully justified as the Spaniard saved the decisive spot kick from Raul Albiol. Unai Emery’s Villarreal contributed much but this was Chelsea’s trophy.

Romelu Lukaku’s imminent arrival will of course add punch to Chelsea’s attack. It would be harsh to depict Tuchel’s men as blunt here, but they failed to fully capitalise on early periods of control. Later, it was notable how much possession the Champions League winners were willing to give up. When that transpired, Villarreal proved they remain blissfully easy on the eye.

Chelsea’s supporters, many of them locally-based, understandably made up the bulk of the 13,000 crowd, but two not insignificant pockets of Villarreal followers, in their striking yellow, added to the sense of occasion. That Emery paid no attention whatsoever to the boundaries of the technical area, even during seemingly humdrum spells of the game, suggested he, too, was delighted at being here.

Tuchel sprung a slight surprise by deploying Trevor Chalobah among a three-man defensive line. This marked the 22-year-old’s first competitive start for Chelsea, after loan spells that have stretched from Ipswich to FC Lorient.

Yet the Chelsea head coach had hinted before kick-off that the difficulties associated with handling a squad that reached the Champions League final before being split in many cases between the Euros and Copa America meant unorthodox selections were likely. The Chelsea bench in Belfast was striking simply on account of its strength. Included there was Tammy Abraham, who seems likely to be a high-profile victim of Lukaku’s arrival.

The same cannot yet be said of Timo Werner. Tuchel believes the forward will benefit from the experience of his first season in England. But wastefulness remains Werner’s biggest issue; he should have scored from point-blank range after six minutes but instead allowed Sergio Asenjo to palm the ball away. As N’Golo Kanté flashed a 20-yard shot wide, Chelsea had an early grip.

That much was emphasised by a wonderful opening goal. Marcos Alonso fed the marauding Kai Havertz on the left flank, with the latter delivering a menacing cross that narrowly eluded Werner. Hakim Ziyech appeared to stub his shot but, with Asenjo exposed, it found the net anyway. Emery’s agitation was quite the sight.

In what was a highly entertaining opening period, Villarreal responded through the recently recruited Boulaye Dia. Édouard Mendy saved smartly at the feet of his fellow Senegal international. Chelsea fired back through Alonso and Kurt Zouma, who both had decent opportunities to double the lead before the interval. Seconds before the break, Alberto Moreno crashed a volley off the underside of the Chelsea crossbar.

By that juncture Tuchel had received a yellow card for protests towards the referee and Chelsea had made an enforced change. Ziyech, hitherto a menace to the Villarreal defence, landed badly after challenging for a header inside his own penalty area. Christian Pulisic replaced Ziyech, who left the scene clutching his right shoulder. In respect of his contribution to the match, that much was a shame.

Villarreal came within the width of a post of restoring parity six minutes after the restart. A poor clearance from Mendy landed at the feet of Dia, who fed Gerard Moreno. With time and space to pick his spot from an angle, he instead mixed up his angles.

Villarreal were, however, visibly boosted by the chance, with Chalobah’s last-ditch clearance necessary to prevent Dia from surely nodding home. With Chelsea having fallen out of the game, Tuchel bowed to temptation by bringing on Mason Mount – a firm favourite of the head coach – Jorginho and Andreas Christensen. In a boost to Chalobah, it was Zouma who made way for Christensen.

Villarreal were, though, to claim the equaliser their play fully deserved. Dia supplied a glorious back heel, as Gerard Moreno ran onto it before clipping beyond Mendy. This glorious piece of attacking movement – assisted by Antonio Rüdiger gifting possession to Villarreal, it must be noted – had Emery dancing for joy.

Alonso came closest to winning the game for Chelsea in normal time, his fierce shot rippling the side netting. Pulisic fluffed his lines when it looked easier to score.Villarreal were content to settle for penalties, strange though that appeared. Mendy trotted towards the bench as that became a reality. Kepa was to revel in his moment. – Guardian

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